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The developmental origin of health and disease highlights the importance of the period of the first 1000 days (from the conception to the 2 years of life). The process of the gut microbiota establishment is included in this time window. Various perinatal determinants, such as cesarean section delivery, type of feeding, antibiotics treatment, gestational age or environment, can affect the pattern of bacterial colonization and result in dysbiosis. The alteration of the early bacterial gut pattern can persist over several months and may have long-lasting functional effects with an impact on disease risk later in life. As for example, early gut dysbiosis has been involved in allergic diseases and obesity occurrence. Besides, while it was thought that the fetus developed under sterile conditions, recent data suggested the presence of a microbiota in utero, particularly in the placenta. Even if the origin of this microbiota and its eventual transfer to the infant are nowadays unknown, this placental microbiota could trigger immune responses in the fetus and would program the infant’s immune development during fetal life, earlier than previously considered. Moreover, several studies demonstrated a link between the composition of placental microbiota and some pathological conditions of the pregnancy. All these data show the evidence of relationships between the neonatal gut establishment and future health outcomes. Hence, the use of pre- and/or probiotics to prevent or repair any early dysbiosis is increasingly attractive to avoid long-term health consequences.
The gut of preterm neonates is colonised with a paucity of bacterial species originating more from the environment than from the mother. Furthermore, a delayed colonisation by bifidobacteria promotes colonisation by potentially pathogenic bacteria. This may contribute towards the development of neonatal necrotising enterocolitis (NEC). The physiopathology of NEC is still unclear but immaturity of the gut, enteral feeding and bacterial colonisation are all thought to be involved. None of the current preventive treatments are considered satisfactory. Modulating the autochthonous microflora by probiotics or prebiotics could be a more reliable approach to prevention. Using gnotobiotic quails as an experimental model of NEC we have shown that onset of intestinal lesions requires a combination of low endogenous lactase activity, lactose in diet, and colonisation by lactose-fermenting bacteria such as the clostridia. The protective role of bifidobacteria was demonstrated in this model through a decrease in clostridial populations and in butyric acid. Oligofructose dietary supplementation was shown to enhance this effect with an increase in the bifidobacterial level and consequently a greater decrease in clostridia. However, oligofructose was unable to promote a bifidobacterial acquisition when the microflora was initially deprived of this group. Nevertheless, oligofructose can act as an anti-infective agent and decrease the occurrence or severity of the lesions depending on the bacteria involved. According to these results and to the fact that oligosaccharides are a major component of breast milk, the addition of oligofructose in formula milks may be a nutritional approach to favouring colonisation by a beneficial flora.
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